For Puebla study abroad participants, effects are long-lasting
In the 50 years since the start of Wichita State’s Summer Program in Puebla, Mexico, nearly 1,900 students have taken part, learning more about the Spanish language and gaining first-hand knowledge of life in a Spanish-speaking country.
Along with the usual 6-week summer program in July, which this year includes 33 current students, there is a 50th anniversary celebration and reunion with past students, directors, professors, Puebla conversation directors and host families.
Eunice Doman Myers, the fourth director of the program, said not only do students learn the language and culture, many of go on to successful careers because of what they learned while in Puebla.
And then there are the connections of the heart.
“There have been several marriages of a WSU student and a person from Puebla,” Myers said. “For many students the experience is life-changing.”
The program is part of WSU’s Modern and Classical Languages Department. Participating students earn college credit toward a degree or teacher certification.
During their six weeks, they stay either in the Hotel Colonial (the same hotel the program has used for the past 50 years), or in a private home with a Mexican family.
There are daily conversation, reading, pronunciation or grammar classes taught by Wichita State faculty and local Mexican conversation directors and professors. There are also opportunities for students to visit nearby points of interest, including Mexico City in the interior and other historic sites.
The connection with Puebla began in 1963 with funding from the National Defense Education Act, which helped high school Spanish teachers improve their speaking, writing skills and teaching skills.
Teachers from all over the United States participated. When the federal funds ran out, Wichita State professor Eugene Savaiano, who had headed the WSU program, converted it to the present WSU Summer Program in Puebla, Mexico, open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as students from other universities.
Myers said students make great progress in Puebla that carries over into their life back home.
“Some arrive in Puebla barely speaking the language and have great difficulty understanding a native speaker. Within a couple of weeks, they are grasping more and more and even understand simple jokes and plays on words,” she said. “The next semester they understand lectures in Spanish and participate confidently in class discussion.”
The connections and experience have also led to jobs for some participants.
Jessica Stitt, a Wichita State graduate who double majored in engineering and Spanish, is working for Learjet at its Queretaro, Mexico, facility.
Kevin Brauning, also an engineering and Spanish graduate, participated in the Puebla program twice. The first time, he said, dramatically improved his Spanish and encouraged him to add Spanish as a major.
But the benefits started adding up after her returned home the second time. The study abroad experiences helped get him accepted into the pilot program for the Global Design Challenge at WSU. Those connections led to a full-time job at Spirit Aerosystems, running the Global Design Challenge program.
Myers said she’s proud of what the Puebla program has done for students in the past 50 years.
“I take very seriously my responsibility as current director of the Puebla program,” she said. “It is hard work, but so worth it when I see students blossom and enjoy their experience. Each year I look forward to returning to renew friendships and form new ones.”